I was in Calcutta – that too at an ATM to take out Rs 10,000 for my mother’s medical tests. It was 7.30 pm when my wife called me from Delhi saying that Prime Minister Modi would be on TV for some urgent announcement. I said ‘okay’ but suddenly? I took out the money and went back home and turned on the television. At 8 pm came the ‘farman’ that changed India forever – ‘Demonetisation’. I had only read about this in economics, but for me and other Indians, it was now real. I was squabbling with my niece, checking all the Rs 1,000 notes we had, only to find that all the money I owned was valueless. For the next seven days in the city, till I boarded my flight for Delhi, I had to borrow some thousands of rupees in denominations of Rs 100 and 50.
Next, my mission was to find out how people had been affected by this sudden decision that brought them to the streets, in never ending serpentine queues. It reminded me of the 1980s ration and kerosene queues. It used to take hours or even days, and when the shop would open depended on the sole discretion of the owner. I never thought I would see India like that again. Everywhere I travelled, the scenes were a photocopy of the previous place. Everywhere, people had to stand in the cold winters of North India or the warm days in Eastern India, waiting for currency.
There were cries all around. The hard earned money of many, saved as little cash in Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes were no longer of any value. It looked like Nero’s Rome. For six months, I documented the lives of people in queues and their agony. The better part of Indians are resilient people, some helped each other, and the old and pregnant women were taken care of by people standing with them for hours.
It’s been one year since that day of the announcement, but the pains Indians took are captured in my images, and those days will never be forgotten.
All images by Shome Basu.